Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Mute Hummings and Scribbles

Ex Ovo is a relatively new entrant to the drone boutique label set, founded in January 2006 in Germany. The label's second release is a compilation with the odd title, I, Mute Hummings, subtitled 'A Collection of Drone Music and Dulcet Atmospheres.' The first hundred copies are accompanied by a limited CD-R entitled Mute Scribbles. The primary CD has a lot of the big names in the drone world. Paul Bradley and Keith Berry both contribute fairly short quiet drones. Both of these artists have released CDs with a single long piece, so to hear abbreviated versions is kinda comparable to the thirty-second snippets you get in eMusic or iTunes, but they are still very nice. Polish artist Dronæment includes a third installment in their hitherto vinyl-only Phonorecord series, which incorporates loops from the intro and outro sections of old vinyl, apparently because this compilation was originally slated for a vinyl release before switching over to CD.

There is also representation from the guitar drone school, where the primary sound source is electric guitar. This compilation contains my first exposure to Dirk Bogarde's Fear Falls Burning project, which apparently is consuming more of his recent creative energies than Vidna Obmana, which is where I first learned of him. The duo Troum has done a number of guitar-based ambient projects before, most notably their Tjukurrpa trilogy. Their piece 'Thrausmata Enos Eneirou' on this album wouldn't be out of place on the Tjukurrpa Harmonies, with the addition of some open field recordings of wind and voices. Finally, an artist on I, Mute Hummings who is completely new to me is bassist Jeffrey Roden, a former chamber jazz player whose most recent solo work is a series of short improvisations which has recently been released on new music label New Albion. Here, one of these short improvisations has been remixed by the German artist Feu Follet (who also has a piece on Ex Ovo companion album). Although it starts out recognizably as a bass guitar, the instrument loses its identity, as the music slowly builds through a series of loops that fade in and out across eleven oneiric minutes.

There are also a couple of electronic music pioneers who are represented. Richard Lainhart has long been a favorite of mine from his double album retrospective on XI, Ten Thousand Shades of Blue. Here he provides a short remix of his 1974 work White Night that successfully captures the feeling of the original and inhabits the same slow, shimmering sound world as the long works on his retrospective disk. Steve Joliffe, an early member of the proto-ambient group Tangerine Dream, provides the source for a 'redundant minimal development mix' from label boss Mirko Uhlig, which opens and closes with two unprocessed flutes, but whose central section, watery and grainy, might have used the flutes as source material (who really knows?).

There is only one piece on I, Mute Hummings that doesn't live up to the promised dulcet atmospheres. Column One presents a live recording of piercing metallic scratches that jolts me out of the calm place where the rest of the album puts me. A collective based in Berlin, their work is quite serious, and the group places itself in the information/theoretical space similar to the Psychic TV and Fylkingen group in Stockholm. This is not the first compilation I've heard to put jarring sounds near the end of the album (Column One has the second-to-last track). One of the great Em:t ambient compilations included a sample from a horror movie of a woman screaming in complete fear — guaranteed to wake up the listener from whatever profound slumber the previous hour may have introduced. I've never been the biggest fan of this device.

Mute Scribbles has many fewer big names, but it is every bit as ethereal as the first disk. The only name previously known to me is Emerge, who has a CD on Mystery Sea and a release on Drone Records. As it turns out, Aalfang Mit Pferdekopf is another of Uhlig's projects (he also has a piece under his own name on the bonus disk). The companion follows the strengths of the primary disk.

One of the rationales for compilation disks like this is to expose listeners to new artists and new labels, and these two compilations have succeeded on both counts. It will be interesting to follow Ex Ovo for future releases. Their web site has links for all of the artists on both comps, which in turn have links to the artists' sites.

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